The fake blood scandal at Harlequins happened the best part of 18 months ago, but the union game has yet to rid itself of the rancid smell. Steph Brennan, the physiotherapist who participated in the Heineken Cup substitution scam orchestrated by the London club's director of rugby Dean Richards, was yesterday struck off by the Health Professions Council – a development that cast Richards' current efforts to "clarify" the roles he may or may not perform during his three-year ban from the sport in a dismal, dirty-grey light.
Judge Jeff Blackett, the Rugby Football Union's chief disciplinary officer, has been in discussions with Richards about the breadth of his suspension, if not the length of it, but was reluctant to reach a conclusion while cases connected with the affair were being dealt with by various professional bodies. Brennan's hearing, following hard on the heels of the General Medical Council's consideration of the role played by Quins' match-day medic Dr Wendy Chapman, brings the formal part of this miserable saga to an end, although Brennan, who admitted all charges except that of being unfit to practice, may yetappeal.
Brennan, who bought capsules of fake blood and charged them to expenses, equipped the Quins wing Tom Williams with one of them in the closing stages of the European quarter-final against Leinster in April of last year. He was acting on Richards' orders, and subsequently lied at a disciplinary hearing in an effort to conceal the truth. As a consequence, he lost a top job with the England team. Now, he has lost his private practice, too.
He showed a good deal of remorse while giving evidence to the HPC. "I wish I'd stood up to Dean Richards," he said. "I regret it every day. I was told this was what I had to do – it was a split-second decision made during a match that had massive pressure on it. Giving a blood capsule to Tom Williams had nothing to do with physiotherapy. It was a stupid act of cheating."
There was no mercy from the HPC's tribunal, however. Taking account of the fact that Brennan had been involved in this kind of behaviour earlier in his career at Quins – the physiotherapist admitted to four previous instances of faking blood injuries – the three-man panel said in their judgement: "There was premeditated behaviour over a number of years, designed to deceive. The panel are clearly aware that Mr Brennan's clinical ability is not in question, but have no hesitation in finding that his professional reputation remains stained. The finding of impairment of fitness to practice is required to demonstrate to the public and other health professionals that behaviour of this nature simply cannot be countenanced."
Meanwhile, Butch James will not play Premiership rugby for Bath this side of the autumn internationals. The Springbok outside-half has had surgery on his shoulder – he was injured during a Tri-Nations match between South Africa and Australia last month – and is not expected to return to action until November.
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